Instigator: Political ExhibitionsActions | Alliances | Exhibitions
Three exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area - all text by Art Hazelwood
On March 5th 2007, a car bomb exploded in the booksellers district, Al Mutanabbi Street, in Baghdad. Like many stories of devastation this one may have passed by with one horrified gasp and then remained a mere footnote in the endless parade of monstrous acts that have followed on the US invasion of Iraq– but for an independent bookseller in San Francisco who rallied artists to respond to the attack. This project has been embraced by poets, broadside printers, artist book makers, and printmakers from 25 countries.
This exhibition at the San Francisco Public Library focuses on printmaking with the work of over fifty artists from around the world. It is part of a wider series of traveling shows that have been presented in Europe, the Middle East and the US.
Opening panel discussion and reception, November 2, 3:45 - 6:00 .
Art as Activism, Art as Memorial: Panel discussion moderated by Art Hazelwood, with Khalil Bendib, Golbanou Moghaddas, Nancy Hom, Juan R. Fuentes
Five artists from the exhibition Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: In Defense of Culture will speak on the use of art for memorializing loss and for activating struggle. What role does art play in keeping memory alive? How do artists participate in struggles for social justice? Cultural defense is more than economic development, caught between forces of militarism and fundamentalism, how do artists engage in the struggle to keep memory alive and the humanitarian goals of culture thriving. How does art weave a pattern of cultural value in confrontation with the ever-growing forces of terror, the global dominance of militarism, the devouring world of commerce, and the anarchy of violence. How do we build a bridge from Al-Mutanabbi Street to San Francisco.
Khalil Bendib is a cartoonist, graphic novelist and co-host of KPFA’s Voices of the Middle East and North Africa. Golbanou Moghaddas, originally from Iran, is a recent MFA printmaking graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute. Nancy Hom is a longtime politically engaged artist from her work with the Kearny Street Workshop starting in the 1970s to her current installation work. Juan R. Fuentes artistic and activist involvement has deep roots from the beginnings of the Chicano Poster Movement to the present. He was director of Mission Gráfica from 1997 to 2007. Art Hazelwood is an artist active in political struggles who has focused much of his creative energy on issues of economic inequality.
The Al Mutanabbi Street print project, Absence and Presence, turns to printmakers to further the rallyingcall first made to letterpress broadside artists and then to book artists. San Francisco Poet and Bookseller Beau Beausoleil initiated these projects to support the people of Al Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, where a car bomb tore through this ancient booksellers street. Each form that the project has taken has allowed the strengths of different media to express the human connections among those who value culture from around the globe.
For the printmaking part of this project Beau Beausoleil worked with coordinators from across the US,the UK and Australia. Through their networks of fellow printmakers, the coordinators invited 260 participants. The number is significant as it is twice the number of those killed and injured in the attack of 2007. Through this network of artists a widely diverse group of printmakers has been assembled from Europe and the US, with additional artists from the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
Each print is on a sheet size of 11 x 15 inches. Within those confines the artists have formulated their response to the attack. While the artists book format lends itself to an unfolding narrative, the print is a fixed rectangle. The challengeto the printmakers in this project has been to try to tell so much in one “scene”–the challenge of addressing the atrocity itself, the value of the book, the cultural interconnections between Iraq and the world.
Artists have drawn on their diverse life history as they struggled to crystalize their thoughts into one single image. Some have turned to the wider cultural background, exploring the ancient history of Iraq, or the relation between religious and secular culture, or simply the essential value of reading. To achieve these prints the artists have utilized a wide array of techniques, from woodcut to spit bite aquatint etching, from screenprints to prints pulled from the leather tooled cover of an old book. The technical range and the diversity of approaches makes for a strong body of work that speaks to this one horrible act, isolating and examining it, not letting it escape down the memory hole of atrocities brought about by the Iraq War and its aftermath.
Al-Mutanabbi Street was our witness and in the blink of an eye, it was gone, in the gap between our dream and its loss.
- Irada Al Jabbouri
On March 5th 2007, a car bomb exploded in the booksellers district, Al-Mutanabbi Street, in Baghdad. Like many stories of devastation this one may have passed by with one horrified gasp and then remained a mere footnote in the endless parade of monstrous acts that have followed on the US invasion of Iraq– but for an independent bookseller in San Francisco who saw in this particular act a microcosm of all monstrosities: an act of terror to be sure, an attack on culture, an attack on what unifies us, an attempt to divide which must be countered. Beau Beausoleil working from his bookstore in the Sunset district sent a plea to the cultural world to stand in solidarity with the victims of this tragedy and preserve its memory. He did this for his fellow booksellers in Iraq, but also in defense of culture against those who would destroy it. The project has been embraced by poets, broadside printers, artist book makers, and printmakers from 25 countries who have each contributed their skills, and their emotional energies in ways unique to their media.
This exhibition is a selection of prints, broadsides and artist books. The printmaking on display represents the work of fifty artists from around the world. The broadsides and artist books are a smaller selection from numerous examples created as part of a series of traveling shows that have been presented in Europe, the Middle East and the US. A large number of artists are from the Bay Area. Artists from many local workshops are represented including the Center for the Book, Kala Art Institute, Graphic Arts Workshop, Mission Gráfica, and the print program at San Quentin State Prison. There are works from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan, Australia, Germany, the UK, Spain, China, and India. Several of the US based artists are originally from countries of the Middle East.
Within the narrow confine of a piece of paper or a book the artists have risen to the challenge of addressing the magnitude of the atrocity, at the same time upholding the culture of the book, and the cultural interconnections between Iraq and the world. Some have turned to the wider cultural background, exploring the ancient history of Iraq, or the relation between religious and secular culture, or simply the essential value of reading. In many of the works the artists have searched out a kernel of hope for regrowth after devastation
The artists have used a wide array of techniques, from woodcut to spit bite aquatint etching, from screenprints to burning the edges of the paper. The technical range and the diversity of approaches makes for a body of work that speaks to this one horrible act, isolating and examining it, not letting it escape down the memory hole of one atrocity after another. The entire project of artists’ responses, act as a collective memorial for not only this one act of terror but for all the atrocities brought about by the Iraq War and domino of disaster it has wrought.
Absence and Presence: A Printmaking Response to the Bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street
San Francisco Center for the Book